Latvia

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A four-day weekend without our children.  What do we do??  I don’t know, should we go somewhere?  We’ve already seen most of what there is to see in Georgia and Azerbaijan, and our neighbors of Iran and Dagestan sort of eliminate a road trip.  So what about Latvia?

After getting Mike from the airport at 9pm Thursday night, he barely had time to change his clothes before our plane took off at 6am the next morning.  Thanks for helping us get our vacation started, Becca!

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And what a good choice we made!

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Riga is lovely.  Of all the former Soviet Socialist Republics, the Baltic states are extremely visit-worthy!  We immediately found ourselves in a square full of people, filled with outdoor cafes where live music was playing and the wine flowed freely.  Our hotel was an art nouveau-style place called the Hotel Justus, right in the center of the Old City, and we loved it.  The streets were so cobbled that is was almost hard to walk!

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We found a city map and went on our own little walking tour, where we saw whole neighborhoods of fascinating buildings, covered in gargoyles and sphinxes and interesting faces carved in the stone.  There was a beautiful central park with street musicians and people eating ice cream, and a bridge covered in Locks of Love:

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This turtle lock was cool:

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Here is the square where Mike and I had happy hour and played cards in the evening:

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How fun to play cards again!  Being so far north the weather was a little chilly, but most of the bars had blankets to keep us warm.  The northern latitude also meant it stayed light until almost 11pm.  On tap was a lot of Latvian beer.

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We also tasted some wine.  I know it makes me kind of lame, but I love Riesling!  Especially in the summer, in the afternoon, when I am on vacation.  We tried a lot of regional beers too, but had trouble finding one we really liked.  Aldaris was probably the best.  We also had Valmiermuizas, Piebalga, Tervete, Ilguciema Medulas, A Le Coq, Rigensis, Bralis, Bernard, and a local liquor called Balzams.  Balzams is a thick, black, cheap-perfumey thing.  I think we will stick to the beer!

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This guy was also sticking to the beer.  Did we mention that Riga is a favorite destination for bachelor parties from the UK?

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On our last day, Mike and I rented bikes to get out of the city.  We got a little lost and never made it to the beach, but we still had a wonderful trip around the suburbs.  And realized what fun it is to go for bike rides!  We can’t wait for Jake and Eli to join us :).  Afterward, we parked at a cafe in front of St. Peter’s church, and watched the hordes of cruse ships pass through the square taking pictures (those are our bikes):

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You may be wondering how we managed to taste all of those beers in three days.  We took advantage of every opportunity!

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At night, when the sun finally went down, Riga remained beautiful.  The alleys were lit and the bars were lively, and if we avoided the one square where there was a Hillbilly Steak Haus, TGIFridays, and country/Elvis music blasting over the speakers, we felt like we were surrounded by the charms of the old European capital.

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We also visited a World Press photo exhibition and spent a morning at the Occupation Museum, both somber events that triggered long discussions about history, leadership, fear, repression, the purpose of education, distrust of governments, and the difference between politics and celebrity.  We wonder sometimes, given the suffering of some nations under the ruthlessness, lies, and unfairness of their leaders, that we Americans could ever dare to assert that our own government is “taking away our rights?”  How would we reclassify that assertion, in the context of other nations where people who disagree are put in jail, where the educated leaders and the teachers are taken from their homes in the middle of the night and shipped away, where there is justification for entire races of people being murdered and later lies to cover it up?  We have no idea what fear really is.  We have no idea what dictatorship really is.  We are so lucky, really.  And Mike and I are grateful for that today.

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